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Explaining double jeopardy in Pennsylvania


One of the clauses in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution says "No person shall. . . be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . ." This is known as the "double jeopardy" clause. What this means is that a criminal defendant in Pennsylvania cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Thus, a person charged a second time for the same crime could assert double jeopardy as a criminal defense to the charges.


Until the 1960s, the double jeopardy clause only guaranteed protection for federal criminal defendants - unless there was a similar state law or provision. In the 1969 Benton v. Maryland decision, however, the United States Supreme Court held that the constitutional guarantees provided for in the Bill of Rights apply equally to both state and federal governments. So, for the last half century, criminal defendants have been protected from double jeopardy at both the state and federal levels.

But, this still does not prevent them from being tried twice for the same alleged crime. Double jeopardy only protects a criminal defendant from being prosecuted more than once for the same crime by the same government. It does not, however, protect a defendant from being tried for the same crime by two different governments, for example two states. This is known as the "dual sovereignty" doctrine.

In the history of the United States, there have been many examples of the dual sovereignty doctrine at work. In Heath v. Alabama, for example, the defendant had his wife kidnapped in Alabama, but her remains were discovered in Georgia. In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the defendant's prosecution by both states. When someone has been charged with a crime - or faces the possibility of being charged - by more than one jurisdiction, consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney should be the first course of action.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Can I be charged twice for the same crime in different states?," accessed Apr. 30, 2018

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